Without acid our food and drinks would be flat and have no life. Acidity makes things better. That is why we squeeze lemon juice on all kinds of dishes, add lime juice to our margaritas, and put vinegar on our salads.
Acid in wine comes from the grape. As a grape ripens over the growing season the plant replaces acid in the berry with sugar. This is part of its reproductive system, but humans have learned to control and capture this sugar to our benefit and make wine from it. Some grapes are naturally higher in acidity than others (Riesling and Sauvignon are higher while Chardonnay and Viognier can be more medium) and the climate where grapes are grown will have a huge impact on the acid levels in the grapes, as well as harvesting earlier or later. Many factors can contribute to the acidity in a wine. In fact, some wineries even add acid to their wines to make them more palatable when it is not produced naturally.
In part 2 of this tasting series, we took a look at sweetness in wines and it should go without saying that acid and sugar are often discussed in very similar and closely aligned conversation. They is often a look at how the acid in a wine compares to, balances with, or contrasts to the acidity in the wine. For this flight we use examples that are fairly low in sugar so we can see how wines might differ with regard to acid, specifically.
My recommendation is often to use a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, as an easy substitute in this slot. Gruner Veltliner is often harvested just barely at ripeness, comes from moderately cool climates (especially the lower priced ones) and is full of under-ripe, vegetal notes that work well with plant-based cuisines. What we are looking for here is a wine with high levels of acid and not much else. Not really neutral but just not oaky or showing any maturation characteristics, and from a cooler climate. Many of these wines come in liter bottles for about $10-$15. Groiss, Grooner and a number of others are easily accessible. You don't have to spend a lot here, so don't.
In contrast we want to taste this wine side by side with a wine such a California Chardonnay, or similar, that has some oak and comes from a warmer climate. Why warmer? Because in a warmer area, grapes ripen faster, which means they build sugar in the berries faster and earlier in the growing season than grapes grown in a cool region. Harvest in Sicily can be as early as July due to the heat there, while grape harvest in Oregon might be well into September or even October (although climate change factors are definitely impacting this range). There are many examples - a California appellation $15 Chard with about 14% abv is perfect.
The final wine in this flight is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc such as those typically found in Marlborough. These wines are often harvested just at ripeness, have high levels of acidity due to the cool climate and are very aromatic, with loads of tropical and vegetal notes often dominating the aromas and flavors. What we are looking for here is that high level of acidity - NZ SBs are often our marker for HIGH acid - as well as the very aromatic style of the wines with the tropical notes. Satellite, Dogpoint, and Lobster Reef are a favorites of mine, but there are literally dozens on the market. Stick with moderate prices but not so much with the mass-marketed brands. these tend to have a bit of RS added which can confuse. Marlborough is your place.
In conclusion, the Australian Riesling or the Gruner Veltliner in this flight show us an example of fairly neutral, high acid, under-ripe (dry) wine. The Cali Chard will be medium in acid, typically, and with any oak influence with show us a rounder mouthfeel and an off-dry overall feel (typically). And the New Zealand Sauvignon will split the middle with very high acid, very high aromatics and a mostly dry style, that is lean on the palate but can also be somewhat balanced due to the Sauvignon's nature in having more richness, naturally.
It should be noted that while these notes are intended to be guidelines in buying and calibration tasting, it is important to taste and evaluate all wines and assess their own merits. These flights are great to use for study but add in a few other wines and you can really begins to understand the differences in wine styels and components.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.